Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

French Tarte - Saturday, January 26

In addition to the shortbread bar, croissants, pain au chocolat, and croissant aux amandes, here's a few of the other offerings from this past Saturday -- oh, and everything, and I mean everything, sold:

chocolate ganache tart with coffee ganache swirl, the small version and the large (below)

sugar buns - yeah!
croissant aux amandes

bouchon, which is French for cork, because I think they look like distorted champagne corks - a buttermilk cake that tastes like buttermilk pancakes, homemade cake donuts, apple fritters (without the apple), the suggestions were all over the place 

raspberry pistachio tart

apple cherry tart

pear ginger financiers (almond cakes)

caramel nut tart

The March Hare at the Winter Farmers Market

If you haven't tried their pea tendril pesto (the latest batch with almonds!) or their butternut squash-pumpkin soup, you're missing out on some of the best locally produced food in Rhode Island!
Daniele and Darius

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Nick's on Broadway

Chef-owner Derek Wagner is one of the reasons Providence has become such a well-known food destination. His attention to detail, commitment to using to local resources, drive for culinary creativity, dedication to customer service and wonderful food packed with scrumptious flavors keeps us coming back again and again.

Nick's is only four blocks from our house and we often go there for Sunday brunch -- if you go, get there well before 8:30 am unless you want to wait a half or so because it's always jam packed. 

But the other evening my wife and I joined two friends there for dinner, something we had not had at Nick's for far too long. We started with a sparkling wine from the Loire and the evening just got better and better.
Roasted oysters and potato-parsnip gnocchi in a lamb ragout for starters followed by winter root vegetable soup and salad for one, more gnocchi for a second, salad and a side of roasted potatoes for a third and I had the pork shoulder on a bean cassoulet. Everyone agreed the food was truly delightful, loads of flavors, gorgeous colors and just the right portions.  All washed down with a bottle of Jermann chardonnay from Friuli.

Winter root vegetable soup

Potato-parsnip gnocchi with lamb ragout

Pork shoulder over bean cassoulet
Although reasonably priced by Providence standards, Nick's is one of the pricier restaurants on the west side. Still,  we all agreed its a good value and we have now set our sights on returning more often.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Portland and back

This last Sunday Susie and I wound up the Mini and drove two-and-a-half hours to Portland, Maine for a family get together: Dick and Dorothy had driven up from Douglas, Massachusetts and Joyce drove down from Orono, Maine, and we all met at Bintliff's American Cafe on Portland Street in, well Portland of course!

After more than 30 minutes standing outside -- in moderately annoying weather -- we were ushered inside one of the coziest places we've eaten in a long time. Once through the front door of this architectural relic from a long-gone era in Portland history, we threaded passed everyone else waiting and followed our host upstairs the five of us squeezed into a booth. Once seated, coats off and hung, drinks ordered we commenced a pleasant afternoon catching up on all the news.

Conversation continued over a delicious meal and we all agreed this was a great choice for spending a family get together (and take ten bucks out of petty cash Dick for this find!). Service was wonderful, the food very good, and the portions quite generous. The omelets and frittatas were flavorful with impressive list of ingredients to choose; a delightful dining experience and great value as well.

three-egg omelet

After brunch the five of us drove down to the wharf area, along Commercial Street in search of the Standard Baking Company. Susie had recently come across their cookbook and wanted to check out their wares. Parking was at a premium along the street but much to our surprise we found a couple of spaces right in front of the bakery, set as it was back a little off the street it had its own lot.

We had no sooner walked in than a flood of people followed right behind -- maybe they were watching to see if anyone else was going in. The shop was, in a word, pretty much a standard bakery, with lots of breads in the background and a reasonably broad selection of pastries in the case in front.

Having seen what we came for -- and of course we picked up a couple of things to try later -- we all said goodbye and headed our separate ways; Joyce back to the wilds of Downeast Maine and Dick and Dorothy to the quiet of southern Massachusetts. 

As for us, well Susie and I decided to stroll and get a lay of the land so to speak -- the weather was not terribly pleasant but we had never been to Portland before and this was our chance to see what all the fuss was about. So we did.

Even though the weather was far from cooperative there was a surprising number of other like-minded souls strolling about, and many of the shops, catering to a variety of tastes and concepts, were open for business. We even passed one cafe touting itself as "Mornings in Paris." Once inside, however, it looked more like a downsized Starbucks clone with baked goods that could hardly have passed the most generous of Parisian palates. 

Nevertheless, seeing all the imagination at work in such a short space and time I can now understand why Amtrak has regular service from to Portland Boston.

We found our way back to the car and headed for the Interstate north and a quick stop at L. L. Bean in Freeport. It was then time to turn ourselves south and home. 

Would we go back to Portland? I suppose so. One thing was certain: it was grand spending quality time with family in a different city for a change.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Saturday, January 19, 2013

French Tarte, December 19

This past saturday at the Winter Farmer's Market was another rousing success for the French Tarte -- and once again she sold out of nearly everything. Susie definitely has a solid following and the number of people who discover her tasty pastries seems to grow each week. Pretty cool, eh?

In addition to her staples of tarts (pistachio-raspberry and caramel nut tart most recently), croissants, pain au chocolat, and croissant amandes, here are three of her latest creations:

cocoa caramel hazelnut financier

"sugar buns," or what you can do with scraps of croissant dough

Legs at Hope Artiste Village. . .

. . . or what happens to mannequins who misbehave, at least in Pawtucket:

Found sitting in front of the New Harvest coffee booth at the Winter Farmers Market. Now don't you wish you'd go there more often?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Grocery truck in downtown Providence and the Gallery in RISD Museum

On my lunchtime walks downtown I often go to the RISD Museum to lose myself for 15 minutes or so. Anyway, on my way there a week or so ago I came across not just a food truck, which are pretty ubiquitous around here these days, but a grocery food truck. Only fresh produce and fruit, nothing packaged. Prices were not bad either.

On this particular foray into the museum I just sat in the center of the Grand Gallery -- modeled after the main gallery in the Louvre -- and stared at one of the most inriguing paintings on display, the "Salon d'Or Homburg," by William Frith.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Manet will be in London

Running from January 26 to April 14 is an exhibition of Manet's work at the Royal Academy in London. Starring Victorine Meurent, Berthe Morisot, Manet of course and a cast of dozens other Parisians from the middle to late 19th century, this collection is touted as being one-of-a-kind. Here's a preview, of sorts:
Visit the royal Academy online for more information

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dining in Providence: New Rivers for New Year's, Loie Fuller for brunch and Bacaro for dinner

One of the finest "Italian" restaurants in Providence, Bacaro's on South Water Street is almost a stone's throw from that other fine Italian restaurant, Al Forno -- in fact the chef-owner of the former cut his culinary teeth at the latter (and his recipes occasionally show it).

Oddly, though, Bacaro's is often missed by those folks still hung up on Atwell's Avenue, those who love queuing up on a Saturday night waiting 30 minutes to crawl along "historic' Federal Hill looking for parking. Not at Bacaro's -- parking is free and plentiful, the view of the Providence River clean and open, and that's just the beginning.

Bacaro boasts an on-site cheese shop and their own saluminaria, and with seating on two floors we've never had to wait, although they are almost always busy -- indeed, only once in the several times we've gone there have we been turned away without a reservation.

The food is very good, tasty and well-prepared, leaning toward Italian of course but without any specific regional orientation. The portions are generous, and the service spot on: attentive, friendly and helpful. (Monica was our server and she gets a big thumbs up.) An extensive wine list with several options for quaffing a tasty wine. Bacaro is expensive, however (troppo caro) so bear that in mind, and it lacks that cozy atmosphere we appreciate so much of Chez Pascal or Broadway Bistro.
orrechiette with roasted brussell srpouts and pancetta
grilled sausages with roasted spaetzel and red wine braised red cabbage

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Van Halsema Sisters in 1944

Front, left to right: Betsy, Helen and Marian; rear, left to right: Bernice and Willemina; circa 1944.

Monday, January 07, 2013


Here's a test for you: compare the look of this croissant -- just one of the French Tarte specialities -- to a croissant sold in Starbucks or just about any other chain "pastry" shop (if "pastry" is even the right word) and see what you think.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Racing to Paris

We're going back. It's that simple. We just have to,  and no, I don't know why; we just have to go. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between what we have and what we want, between what we need and what we feel, between stumbling through a life unimagined and one with limitless moments of imaginative opportunities.

For my part, I think it's as simple as simply wanting to be a flaneur -- and Paris is the one place that not only allows such behavior but in fact encourages it. To be a flaneur in Paris is a badge of honor, something worn with a smile amidst a stroll through the dark alleys of a darker past and along the boulevards of the bright lights of Manet, Morisot and Degas. 

So we'll fly into Paris, rent a car at the airport, drive somewhere south where we'll spend the night.  As we creep up on the Pyrenees we'll  meet up with Richard and Pauline and enjoy several nights of finding our way into the very, very dark past of humankind and, with any luck, get a chance to see the oldest art scribbled by a human hand.  And along the way we'll pay our respects to those men and women who suffered for their beliefs in the 13th century. We then say arrivaderci to R and P who will make their way back to the United Kingdom while we find our way north, spending a night somewhere yet to be determined. 

After arriving in Paris we drive straight to the Gare Austerlitz where we'll drop the car off. It's onto the Metro (the 5 to the 1), alight at Saint Paint  and then find our way to our apartment on the rue de Sevigne, in a building wedged somewhere between Saint Paul and the Musee de Carnavalet, in the midst of the glorious Jewish quarter. What an incredible place for a flaneur!

Life is short. Go to Paris. We are.

Wish you were there. . . 


Thursday, January 03, 2013

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Once more back to Michigan for Christmas

I can't remember the last time Susie and I went back to Michigan for Christmas. No matter. This year Susie, her brother Dick and sister Mary decided to spend Christmas with their mom in Grand Rapids; Joyce had to work and would be sorely missed.

So, a week ago last Saturday afternoon after the French Tarte wrapped up some last minute business and then closed up shop, we packed up the Mini, pulled out of the drive and headed for Route 146 north to Mass Pike (I-90). The weather was fine, cold but no snow. Of course that would change in western Massachusetts in the Berkshires where we would run the gamut of numerous squalls which posed little threat aside from lowering the visibility to nearly zero.

By late afternoon dark had set in and we sailed into Utica, New York, along the New York Thruway to spend the night at a Red Roof Inn. The room was clean and warm, exceedingly so in fact that we had to turn the heating system off. But we found a wonderful little bistro tucked into the downtown area of lovely Utica and had a delicious meal.
Planca fria, assorted cheeses and cold cuts
Crispy pork legs with homemade baked beans
Lightly fried chicken with polenta fritters

The next morning we arose early,  reloaded the car and continued heading west into the wilds of western New York. We had no sooner pulled onto the highway than we ran into slightly serious snow, enough to create snow ruts on the roadway in which the Mini struggled to find its way. After an hour or so, as dawn arose (she's always late),  we passed through Buffalo, and crossed into Canada over the Rainbow Bridge in lovely downtown Niagara Falls.

Unfortunately the mist was so pervasive that we couldn't catch a glimpse of the falls although we could see the world's largest casino (reportedly). So we left this truly incredible natural wonder behind us, it's beauty set in counterpoint to some of the most grotesque manmade structures in the western hemisphere, and turned to spending the next three hours navigating through the incredibly boring flats of Ontario.

Upon arriving in Sarnia, we spent about 15 minutes at the US border -- one of the shortest times in recent memory since Canada became such a dire threat to US security -- and pushed on into Michigan, zipping past Flint, skirting Lansing, reaching Grand Rapids by late afternoon. Dick and Dorothy met us at the hotel -- they had arrived about an hour or so ahead of us, and after unpacking we headed to Bernice's house to start the festivities. . .

We had a wonderful supper that evening -- as memories stirred once again of so many warm and comforting holiday meals at Eagle Ridge Court, with Susie, Mary, Dick, Dorothy, Ben and Bernice in attendance, but other family absent from the table: the Bergmans flung far and wide, Tunis and William  resting peacefully with the ageless ones.

Christmas Eve was more of the same, good cameraderie and even better food. (Dick and Dorothy had the foresight to bring along their latest batch of beef burgundy all the way from Douglas, MA.) Since Ben had to leave to go back to his father's house we opened gifts late in the afternoon -- it's always a joy to watch Ben's expressions and just to be around him. He is one those rare special people favored by the gods who seems to know more about the rest of us than we can ever hope to understand.

Ben and his grammy

Hoping to stay ahead of a predicted coming storm, Dick and Dorothy left late on Christmas Day. I had taken Mary to the airport in the morning for a flight to Boston where she will spend a couple of nights with Mallory, so by the end of Christmas the house had taken on a slightly less festive feel but the warm quiet was much appreciated.

The day after Christmas Bernice invited family over for a lunch. After a leisurely meal sharing stories and news, we relaxed in the dining room and just chatted away the afternoon.  There were the three Van Halsema sisters, Marian Bernice and Betsy:

Aunt Thea with her every-ready smile and wit:

And Susie's cousin Clark shared the latest stories from travels to various corners of the universe.

Uncle John, Marian's husband, continued to regale us with wild stories of harebrained squirrels doing the least likely things (although generally acting "squirrely" it must be admitted). Talking with John always makes me miss the times we used to walk his garden out at Clear Lake, looking for the right cucumbers to make the most scrumptious dill pickles. And we were pretty good at at, too, it must be admitted.

Aunt Betsy
The day after the first storm of the season, depositing several inches on western Michigan, Susie and I made the command decision to try and stay ahead of the next round of white and leave Thursday instead of Friday. Sadly that meant having to forgo meeting with friends but life in the Ocean State called and we listened.

So we pulled out of Grand Rapids a little after 1pm, skirting south this time leaving the Canadian authorities aghast that we were not going to traverse Ontario roadways for the umpteenth time.  So we headed for the magical Ohio Turnpike where we made a hard left turn and pointed due east racing the darkness. After passing Cleveland and Youngstown we plunged into the wilds of northern Pennsylvania and about an hour of braving the mountainous wilderness we pulled off for the night in Clarion for a night's rest.

We got an early start the next morning and pushed ever eastward, contrary to Greeley's advice, but there you have it. We soon found ourselves basking in the traffic anarchy of I-95 just outside of NYC but soon cruised right on in to Providence, ready for the New Year and the next phase of life.

Our time in the wilds of the Midwest literally flew by -- it always does when you're having fun, I suppose -- and as I sit and write these lines I sometimes wonder if it wasn't a dream. But one can ask the same about all those many times now behind us, the good ones and the bad ones, that have slipped through our short lives.

Life is short and it's time to go to Paris, don't you think?